The Jenu Kuruba Tribe of Kabini

The Serai Kabini - an aged member of the Jenu Kuruba tribe
The Serai Kabini - a honey dipper over a jar of honey

India is home to over one billion people. The majority of these people live in rural areas that often escape the limelight. The residents of these areas, however, are the driving force behind the nation, as they grow much of the food consumed by the rest of the country. Rice, wheat, pulses, fruits and vegetables - the agricultural industry of India produces these products on a scale that is hard to comprehend. Another famous product of the rural areas of India is honey. Renowned for its longevity, medicinal values and irresistible taste, honey is a highly sought-after product throughout the world.

'Jenu' translates to honey, and the name is apt. The people of the Jenu Kuruba tribe have been collecting and distributing honey for centuries. They used to reside deep in the forests of Mysore and Kodagu in the southern Indian state of Karnataka, but rapid development and the resultant deforestation in those areas have led to the Kuruba tribe slowly being driven out of their ancestral homes.

Amongst all the Kabini tribes, the Jenu Kuruba are famous for their centuries-old tradition of collecting honey. The members of the tribe have specialised rituals that they partake in before and during the honey collection process. They sing songs to express sympathy for having driven the bees out of their home, carry purpose-built smoking torches to minimise stinging, and collect the honey in handwoven baskets. Men in their mid-20s usually do the actual climbing, while elders help with preparing the baskets, crafting torches, and harvesting and storing the honey. The honey is equally divided among the community, and the wax is used in various things around the house.

The Serai Kabini - glass jars containing various types of honey
The Serai Kabini - a large honeycomb hanging from a tree

Recently, the traditional practice of honey collecting has been dwindling among members of the Jenu Kuruba tribe, who prefer less risky and strenuous jobs, like working on nearby coffee plantations where they are guaranteed a fixed income. Honey collection has also declined due to deforestation in the area, which means fewer new honeycombs are to be harvested. The locals depend heavily on the forest to collect the honey, but trees are continually being razed in the name of development, which means the Jenu Kuruba have to move on to other methods of earning a living. The arduous work, the risk involved in the procedure and the lack of resources have resulted in members of the tribe slowly moving away from their traditional customs in favour of more modern livelihoods. The community members who remain do it due to a lack of other resources, and surveys indicate that they would give up the practice in favour of better and easier jobs. The songs the elders used to sing are not sung anymore, the younger generation shows little to no interest in honey collecting, and ancient knowledge of the therapeutic and medicinal value of honey is beginning to get lost in time.

Stay in Mysore and witness the Jenu Kuruba doing what they are most famous for - collecting precious honey that feeds thousands across the country. The practice is slowly dying out, so come explore the forests of Karnataka and observe the centuries-old tradition while you still have the chance. Check out the luxurious rooms and splendid facilities at The Serai Kabini while you're here. We offer a range of experiences that will leave you with plenty of stories and memories. On special occasions, enjoy local dances and other folk performances during your stay with us.